FIT, active and healthy, Lynsey Lawrie’s approach to life was to take it for a long run and then follow it up with a gruelling cycle.
She’d work all week and train hard in the evenings, so that come the weekend she could look forward to relaxing by pushing her body to the limit cycling, kayaking and running.
In short, Lynsey didn’t do “sitting down”.
Now, though, the mum of three has finally learned to pace herself. For in a stroke of dreadful irony, her inner action woman – the one that pelted through a gruelling five-day Highland adventure race and finished marathons in 3hrs 11mins – has been forced to take a back seat, energy sapped by debilitating multiple sclerosis.
“I was devastated when I was told,” she remembers. “The MS consultant said it was something I could live with, but I’d not be able to do the races I liked taking part in ever again.
“I was used to pushing myself as hard as I could. And I was being told anything tiring wasn’t good for me.”
Today however, thanks to a combination of treatment and therapies that includes oxygen sessions in a diving style pressure chamber, Lynsey, 39, is fighting back. She might only be managing a mile and a half jog every week compared to her former marathon outings, however she’s determined the condition won’t keep her down: “I want to live as normally as possible,” she adds, “I don’t want people to think ‘poor Lynsey, she’s not well’.”
She is among thousands of MS patients who have turned to the MS Therapy Centre in Bonnington Road for help since it first opened its doors 30 years ago. Set up by a group of people living with the condition, it offered groundbreaking support for patients seeking more than what conventional medicine offered.
There they can undergo oxygen therapy in the pressurised chamber – a process credited with helping the body repair itself – along with other complementary therapies such as reflexology, aromatherapy, pilates, physiotherapy and yoga.
Crucially for many struggling to come to terms with their condition, there is also vital emotional support and advice.
For someone like Lynsey who loved to push herself, MS – which can leave patients drained of energy, affect balance, eyesight, cause stiffness and spasms as well as bladder problems – was a particularly cruel blow.
It was late 2005 and she had recently taken part in the Wilderness Arc, a team event involving five days spent covering a massive 250 miles of climbing, cycling, kayaking and swimming. “I woke up with my right hand like a claw,” she remembers. “I had this flickering in my eyes as well. I thought working and training too hard was to blame.”
An MRI scan in January 2006 confirmed MS and left her reeling.
As she came to terms with the news, Lynsey fell pregnant. Two weeks after first son Munro arrived, MS struck with a vengeance, affecting her eyesight, bladder, bowels and her mobility. “I couldn’t get upstairs, I had to crawl,” she recalls. “But I’m a get on and do it type. I’m not one to let it take control of me, I decided to take control of it.”
Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system and attacks more women than men. Most of the 100,000 people affected in the UK, like Lynsey, have the relapsing remitting form, which leads to a series of debilitating attacks that either fade away partially or completely. The other form, primary progressive, means symptoms which gradually worsen over time.
Lynsey, who lives in Wardie with husband Gordon, 40, found help from a combination of conventional treatment, reflexology and Chinese medicine. She swapped running for cycling, even going on to tackle the 81 miles Caledonian Etape over gruelling Highland landscape.
Unfortunately the race pre-empted another frightening relapse. Now mum to twins Jock and Hector, five, and with Munro, seven, to look after, she sought extra support at the MS Therapy Centre in Leith.
Lynsey, a project manager with Miller Group, uses the centre’s oxygen therapy once a week. “It definitely helps,” she nods. “At work my head is much clearer, I’m not so tired and the fog in my head has lifted. My typing is better – I say to my team ‘look how fast I’m typing!’.”
Multiple sclerosis is typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 and symptoms can vary from person to person.
However Bruce Laidlaw, 68, of Fairmilehead, was like Lynsey – usually outdoors, often running up and down the Pentlands for fun – when he was diagnosed 25 years ago.
“It crept up on me,” he says. “I was 43, very active and fit. At first I thought the numbness in my leg was a trapped nerve. Finding out I had MS was quite a surprise.”
He adopted a gluten-free diet and visited the MS Therapy Centre for oxygen therapy sessions which, he believes have helped hold his MS at bay down the years.
“I cut back from running full marathons to half marathons,” he adds, “but that’s more because of my knees. However I cycle and I play golf and go fishing which is surprisingly physical.”
It’s miles away from how he envisaged his life when he first learned he has MS. “I pictured myself in a wheelchair. I was scared,” he adds.
“The MS Therapy Centre has been a godsend to me and lots of other people across Edin-burgh, Lothian, the Borders and Fife. “
• The trauma of being diagnosed with MS will be told in a moving new film When I Walk, which receives its UK premiere at the Filmhouse on Monday 28 April as part of the MS Therapy Centre’s 30th anniversary. For more details and information go to www.mstc-lothian.org.uk. Lynsey Lawrie is also organising a fundraising special screening of Billy Elliot at The Dominion on May 12. Tickets are available from the centre.
Centre is all about self-help
THE Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in Bonnington Road was set up in 1984 by a group of patients, their families and friends.
Run as a charity, it is used mainly by MS patients but others with conditions ranging from fibromyalgia, pancreatitis, Parkinson’s syndrome, autism and stroke have also benefited.
It costs nearly £200,000 a year to keep the service running.
Carole Macartney, 54, chair of the centre’s board of trustees was diagnosed more than 20 years ago. “You learn to live with the condition by focusing on the things you can do and not get lost in the things you can’t,” she says.
“The MS Therapy Centre is the only physical place for people in the Lothians and Border to go to. Here people will always find a safe environment amongst others who understand and can offer practical and emotional support.
“The ethos at the centre is one of self-management and others with the condition can come and finds ways that will help them.
“The 30th anniversary is a time of celebration and reflection.”